Hampton Roads Community Foundation Blog


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Don't be afraid to talk about race

Families and friends often shy away from controversial topics at the dinner table.

That is precisely the place Dr. Beverly D. Tatum encourages families and communities to discuss race, race relations and racial inequities.

Photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities


Recently, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation and Virginia Humanities convened residents and community leaders for “A Conversation About Race With Dr. Beverly D. Tatum” at the Chesapeake Conference Center. Tatum is former President of Spelman College and author of Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race.

Tatum discussed and signed copies of the 20th anniversary edition of her book which was released in 2017.

At the event, which drew more than 800 people, Tatum encouraged the audience to discuss their racial experiences in an effort to promote racial understanding. She said although there has been some progress with race relations in the United States, there is more work to do to foster better race relations.

April Woodard, TV personality and host of WTKR’s Coast Live, facilitated the conversation. She asked Tatum to chime in on a number of race-related topics, including politics, voting, and school patterns.

Photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities

“Why is it so hard to have a mature conversation about race?” Woodard asked.

Tatum replied that "Many of us have a long history of not talking about race."

Tatum asked the audience to recall when they first became aware of race. Responses ranged from just a few years old through adolescence. Only a few people raised their hands when Tatum asked whether they had talked to an adult about it at the time.

Woodard, who is African American, responded that she was in elementary school when she became aware of race.

A bus driver told students on April’s bus that if they did not behave appropriately, then they would have to sit with the “black girl,” referring to April, as if sitting beside her was a punishment.

Along with on-stage conversation, Tatum accepted audience questions.

One person asked how someone who's not in a school leadership position could address the need for more cultural competency among staff and teachers.

Be a personal example, Tatum said, and discuss with your colleagues the steps you are taking to learn.

"Each of us can influence other people....Those efforts can ignite change," she said.

The event is part of the community foundation’s work on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Racial inequity threatens the future that all of us share as a region, a Commonwealth, a nation,” said Debbie DiCroce, President and CEO of Hampton Roads Community Foundation.

Hosted in partnership with Virginia Humanities, the event was part of a special civic engagement series called Understanding Hampton Roads. The forum launched a new partnership between the Community Foundation and Virginia Humanities called Beneath the Surface: Race and the History of Race in South Hampton Roads.

More events are planned for fall 2019.



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